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Guns.  The mere mention of this topics causes a rise in anxiety level for many people.  Many others automatically start thinking of one-liners, defenses, attacks, and more – they know there is going to be a fight.  Still others are so attached to these issues that they become a part of their very identity and used as part of how they describe who they are – any discussion whatsoever on these topics is considered a questioning or an attack of the person.  Isn’t it interesting that something that can be used for violence creates anxiety, fear, and anger at the mere mention of the word?

And still others, although a much smaller minority, if I had to guess, hang their head in sadness over the intense division that we face in the United States.  How exactly are we “united?”  What exactly are we united about?  I don’t see it.

Two days ago there was another shooting in a school.  The next day there is debate about guns.  There is debate about whether it is appropriate to have a debate about guns.  There are some who call for “common sense” or “reasonable” gun control.  I don’t like those terms.  I think they do more damage than are helpful.  Image being on the other side of any issue and you hear your opponent talking about “common sense” or “reasonable” legislation on your hot button issue.  How do you like just being called unreasonable or without common sense because you don’t agree with your opponent?  How does that advance us any closer to a solution?

There are others who will raise the standard of the Second Amendment and claim that the way to deal with shootings is to arm more people in the schools.  The argument is that since many schools are gun free zones, all it means is that they are sitting ducks.  Is arming more people the answer?  Is increasing the potential or the means for more violence a way to deal with the threat of violence?  Is becoming more militarized a good direction for our culture?  What are the unintended consequences of such an action?

We are completely missing the issue at hand.  We seem to think that material solutions solve all of our problems.  We seem to believe that if we just pass this one piece of legislation, then people will stop doing evil things.  If we just arm everyone, then there will be enough deterrents to make it stop.

And we miss something deeper.

That the material solutions – legislation, guns, or anything else, are only one small part of the equation.  They will remain small as long as we continue to turn a blind eye on the non-material – the spiritual.  That doesn’t mean we should just sit around and wait for the next tragedy that is coming.  That doesn’t mean we just express “thoughts and prayers” as though that’s all that needs to be said.  Prayer isn’t some passive thing that we do, something that gets us off the hook from a responsible response. Prayer is supposed to cause us to get up and do something.  Otherwise, it is just empty words, from empty faith.  What’s the point of having a faith that doesn’t cause us to be so uncomfortable and inconvenienced to do something?  What is the point of having a faith that doesn’t afflict us in our comfort?  It’s worthless and it isn’t faith at all.

Our culture is a culture of sin, brokenness, and mistrust. I don’t mean this in the traditional, conservative, religious-political way.  I’m not arguing that we are sinful because we engage in this or that activity.

Rather, we are sinful.  Period.  As a result things happen because of that brokenness.  Sin is ultimately about broken relationships.  I think there are four broken relationships that impact everything else – our broken relationship with God, with ourselves, with others, and with the rest of creation.

If we think we can mend these broken relationships by using only material things, we are mistaken – fatally.  Sin always ends in death.  Death of a relationship, death of a life, death of hope, death of meaning.

I don’t know the answer to problem we face regarding gun violence.  I do know that it goes beyond a piece of legislation though.  And it does involve legislation too.

But, if all we do is pass another gun law, we are fooling ourselves if we think that will stop the violence that happens in our nation.

We have a culture that doesn’t value life – gun violence is a symptom of this.  It’s just one symptom though.  And treating the symptom doesn’t result in a cure.

We willingly consume food that is detrimental to our health and our bodies.  We do it because they cost less money – our money is more valuable than our bodies and our health.

We willingly consume entertainment that glorifies violent death and destruction of people and creation.  We consume this same entertainment that sees others as pawns in a game and useful agents meant to offer us pleasure.  We do it because we need a way to relax.

We willingly make abortion an option for women who, for whatever reason, feel that terminating a pregnancy is the best option for them.  We do it because paying someone to get rid of the problem is easier and cheaper than surrounding a woman and her family with the resources and care she needs to bring new life into the world.  That would take a lot of work, and require a change in our culture.  Besides, it’s fun to get caught up in arguing about the exceptions.  We don’t have the time or energy to talk about how to create an environment where better options exist.

We willingly create and participate in a “health” care system that is really more focused on sick care rather than health care. We do it because focusing on health takes more effort, requires us to be vulnerable, and has upfront costs.  And it would require us to change.

We willingly fight about “issues” in the abstract because if we really thought about the impact of those issues on real people, it would be too much to bear.  It’s so much easier to fight about issues, than deal with people’s lives.  We might feel guilty or shameful for what we support and oppose.

We willingly fight about immigration and foreigners in this country and what laws should be in place and how many of “them” should be allowed in.  Is it 5,000,000, is it 1,000,000, is it 0?  Does it matter?  Those are just numbers on a screen – not actual lives.  It’s easier to keep things in the abstract.  It’s easier to build an expensive wall so that we don’t have to even look at our neighbors – we can feel safer, even if the wall does more to trap us in our own yard than keep others out.  But gosh, we need to feel safe because we are fragile and live in fear apparently.

We willingly fight about race – a human construct that on the surface is ridiculous, sinful, and screams brokenness into our culture.  We aren’t willing to hear from those who have been oppressed because our experience has been just fine, thank you very much – so what are they possibly talking about?  It’s easier to fight about race, than to listen.  Listening would mean we would have to be open to change and then actually change.

I could go on.  But I don’t have to.  In each of these “issues” we, our culture, are oriented towards sin and brokenness.  We are oriented towards death.  We devalue and dehumanize our opponents and make them enemies because we have made being right and being comfortable an idol that we worship.  We fear change because of what it will cost us.  We don’t want to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced.  We would rather talk.  We’d rather scapegoat and blame others for the problems we face.  We’d rather be lazy and take the easy way out of the responsibility that is right in front of us.

Two days ago was Ash Wednesday.  I love Ash Wednesday.  It is a day in which I am reminded of the prevalence of death.  Death is smashed right in my face, on my forehead.  It’s not just ashes of something that was alive that is now dead.  It’s not just the reminder that I too will someday come face to face with death.  It is the recognition that we live in a world that is oriented towards death – it is besieging us constantly.  It is in our face, on our screens, in the words we choose to use, in our digestive systems, in our skin, in our relationships, and our money.

It is in the idols that we worship.

But Ash Wednesday is more than just a reminder of how prevalent death is – it is also the declaration of something else.  It is the declaration that we cannot over come death on our own.  No matter what we do or how hard we try, we will not defeat death. There is one only who has defeated death – Jesus.

Jesus brings a promise – a powerful promise.  A promise of resurrection.  But in order to experience resurrection, we have to experience death.  That could mean literal death of our bodies.  But it also means death in other ways – death of organizations, relationships, jobs, etc.  And death of things that we hold really close to us – our identities with human made constructs and ideas, our passionate desires to be right and to be recognized as being right while others are wrong, our focus on separating people in to those who are with us and those who are against us.  These need to die before we can experience resurrection.

I pray we have the openness to kill these things that need to die.  Yes, kill them, before they kill us.

The Good News of Jesus is that death does not have the final say.  It is merely a stop on the way.  We fear death because we think it is an ending – a permanent ending.  Yet, Jesus says no.  Jesus promises resurrection – renewed, restored, and transformed life.  Better life.  Better than we could ever imagine.

Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him.  We know what our crosses are – the things that we are clutching so dearly.  The things that will ultimately kill us.  The cross is an instrument of death.  Are we bold enough to allow it to do its job?  Are we bold enough to actually trust Jesus’ words and promises?  We we bold enough to allow these things that we clutch to die?

Or do we fear resurrection?  Do we fear what transformed life would be like?  Do we fear not being in control?

A promise has been made to us.  Do we trust it?  If so, how do we respond today?  How will you respond today?  I start with prayer and it pushes me out of my comfort zone to go and see the humanity, the very essence of life, that is around me.  It pushes me out with open eyes in uncomfortable ways in inconvenient times to see what is around me and to respond.  To bring life, hope, grace, and forgiveness because these have been given to me.  It is my prayer that you become so afflicted by violence, tragedy, homelessness, drug addiction, prostitution, human trafficking, porn addiction, alcohol abuse, racism, sexism, nationalism, and other sins that besiege us that you respond.  It is my prayer that you are made so uncomfortable and inconvenienced by these things that the only option you have is to respond to eliminate these things in your context.  It is my hope that your thoughts and prayers are not empty, but that they pour salt in your open wounds and cause you to get up and go.